Looking

I seem to have missed the month of January. Something happens after the holiday hoopla subsides. Maybe it’s the darkness. I feel suspended. I spend more time thinking. I wait for the sun to warm the stone. I wait for the light to return.

In the Greek myth, Persephone, while picking flowers one day, is abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, depressed by the loss of her daughter, places the earth in continuous winter jeopardizing all who inhabit the earth.

In hopes of lifting Demeter’s depression, Hecate, a guide to the underground, offers to accompany Demeter to visit Persephone. While underground, they strike a deal with Hades to allow Persephone to return to the light. Unfortunately, Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds while below ground. For that action she must remain below ground for six months of the year – thus creating winter and spring.

Persephonedetail
Looking Inward

When you sculpt, you are alone with the stone. You are also alone with your thoughts. You can spend time going over the grocery list or complaining about the cold or planning the dinner menu. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions; they are too easy to break. I look inside – at my dreams, my hopes, my goals, my accomplishments and my failures.

There are many myths that tell the story of the hero that relinquishes his or her life on earth and all they love and possess to descend into the lower realms. There, they confront the darkness of Life. After confronting this personal darkness, the hero reemerges.

For several years, I created meditation labyrinths. A labyrinth is an archetypal symbol found in ancient cultures with mysterious origins and purposes. Although it resembles a maze, it is uni-cursal, having just one path into the center and the same path back out. There are many forms of labyrinths – Chartres, 9-circuit, 7-circuit. http://www.amazon.com/Labyrinths-Ancient-Myths-Modern- Uses/dp/0906362695

Crossroads Labyrinth

When you walk the labyrinth, it is suggested you meditate on a question to be answered or a problem to be solved. At some point  along the journey, you will receive an answer. Sometimes, it is an answer to the question asked. Sometimes, it is an answer to the question we should have asked. Sometimes, there is just silence.

Walking a labyrinth is thought of as a possible path to the self. Jean Shinoda Bolen, in her book, Crossing to Avalon, writes about the role of labyrinths in our lives.

Going into the forest requires us to let go of our old ways and identities: we shed defenses, ingrained habits, and attitudes, which opens us up to new possibilities and depth. We find what really matters to us and can reach the core or center of meaning in ourselves, which is the center of the labyrinth, and then we have the task of integrating this into what we do with our lives.

Looking Outward

Removing each layer of stone is like peeling an onion. The image is there. You just need to reveal it.  Determining where to cut requires looking. Really looking. You must hold the final image in your mind’s eye as you walk around the stone. You look for the next place to remove stone. You make marks and erase them.

I make marks on the stone with different colored crayons:

arrow

  • Yellow indicates a possible route, a movement.
  • Black signifies a direction or decision.
  • Red means STOP before you remove stone in this area. Look again.

When I am tired, I make more tentative marks.

Sometimes I am brave. I remove large pieces of stone with the hammer and chisel or make deeper cuts with the saw. Sometimes I am timid. I am more hesitant. I take away less stone. I spend more time looking.

Looking Ahead

When you are an artist, you have to be willing to change your plan. In 1961, Robert Frost wrote a poem specifically for the Kennedy inauguration. On January 20, the bright sun bounced off the snow on the ground and created a glare. Frost, then 86, could not read from the typewritten text of Dedication. Instead, he recited from memory The Gift Outright, a poem he published in 1941. He never expected the shimmering sun to be a barrier to his intention.

Manuel 2

When in Italy, I had the great privilege of visiting Manuel Neri’s workshop. Neri is an “American sculptor, painter, and printmaker and a notable member of the “second generation” of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.”

He creates stone pieces in his Carrara studio.

He maintains that at some point in the sculpting process, you need to let go of your original design. Although you work from a maquette, the stone itself, the light and shadows, the work space, the skill of the sculptor can alter the design.

You must be brave enough to relinquish your initial idea. You need to believe that choosing another path will lead to an even more extraordinary outcome. You look for the new guideposts and ignore the other ones upon which you first built .

One of the first poems I memorized in school was the Road Not Taken. As a 10 year old, it had little meaning. But to an artist, it is prescient.

We choose the road less traveled and that makes all the difference.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frostpile2

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

On the Path

Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.  Stephen DeStabler

The First Cut is the Deepest Sheryl Crow

When people discover I live in an old firehouse, the first question is:

                    Is the pole still there? *

When people discover I sculpt stone, the first question is:

                    Do you work by hand?

What they are really asking is whether I work with hand tools or pneumatic tools. There is some debate among sculptors whether working with air tools makes you less of a “real” sculptor. I believe it is the eye and the heart that determines the success of the image – not the tool.

When I first started sculpting, it seemed important to use only hand tools to create my work. With a 2 pound hammer and a variety of hand forged chisels, I worked slowly and deliberately. The work day was a long symphony of sound and rhythm: tap, tap, tunk; tap, tap, tunk. I worked intuitively. The stone determined the form.

When working on a large scale, it is difficult to imagine removing 10,000 lbs of stone with just a hammer and chisel. Yes, Michelangelo carved marble using only hand tools but never finished on time – engendering the wrath and consternation of his patrons.

Roughing Out Liber

Carving stone is a subtractive process. When sculpting clay, you create the form by adding material. When carving stone, you remove material to release the image.  Artists know when a line is drawn on a blank sheet of paper or a dab of paint applied to a new canvas, the creative path is determined. Once the stone is removed, there is no turning back.

Roughing out is the first step in creating a sculpture. You remove large pieces of stone to reveal the underlying form of the final sculpture. From the roughed out stage, the sculptor must then continue to peel back the layers of stone until the piece is finished –  or the sculptor determines the work is done. (Or the install date has arrived.)

It took 5 days to split off a 4000+ piece of stone  using a 30 lb rock drill with 18 inch x 1” bits (It came from Philadelphia. It was the only one available in the 5 state area.)

Rick with drill

For three days, Rick Rothrock drilled holes on both sides of the stone. It had to be flipped twice with the front loader. Once the holes were drilled, I set  the feathers and wedges.

Feathers CU

We lightly tap each set with a hammer – like playing a xylophone. Tap then wait. The shock waves travel through the stone seeking the weakest points. Tap and wait. Small cracks appear on the surface linking the drill holes. Suddenly the high pitch sounds that come from the tapping drop into a lower octave. The clink becomes a thunk and then kerplunk and the stone breaks off.

Split stone

Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all pervasive companion to your desire to make art.  And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite.

Art and Fear  Bayles and Orland

 

On My Own

It is quiet after the Maintenance Facility Crews leave the yard for the day. I will have about 5 hours of light in which to work. While I wait for the sun to warm up the air, I suit up. Literally.

In many of the “How to Be an Artist” books, the authors advocate “donning the artist uniform”  before working in the studio. Like entering a monastery, you shed your ‘day  job’ clothing and change into your “heart job” garments. You leave the ‘outside’ work to conduct inner work.

Working with stone is noisy and dusty. Working with stone in winter can also be cold. I start with long johns and jeans, add two layers of work shirts. Next, I don my Carhart overalls. Over that, I add my down vest. Then I pull on my recently acquired super warm hiking socks and shove my feet into my insulated boots. (Good to -20 F.) I double knot the laces.

In Italy, the artigiani wear paper hats to protect their hair and eyes. While working in a studio in Pietrasanta, Italy among dust and noise and some good natured fun, I learned how to make a traditional paper hat.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xb19WLkRLw

However, I need more than a hat made from newspaper to protect my hair, eyes and ears. I wrap a turban around my head , snug up my MSA Safetyworks respirator, slide on my safety glasses and complete the outfit with ear protectors.

(When I was a child living in Maine, we would gear up to play outside. First we donned our long underwear, next we added snow suits, double set of mittens with strings, hat, scarf, plastic bags on our feet and then our boots. It never failed: just before we went out the door, we had to go to the bathroom…. I heed that reminder before I start suiting up in my artist work clothes…)

A year ago, in an article about the reparations of the National Cathedral carvings following the earthquake…Michael Ruane wrote about the stone carvers:

For this work…(they) need their bare hands – to feel the stone, steer the power chisels and the hold the thin files and tools they use like an artist does a brush……The National Stone carvers doing repairs never wear gloves….’Gloves,’ the carvers said, ‘are for cleaning out the cathedral’s roof gutters.’ Washington Post, Monday, December 19, 2011.

 I, however, wear gloves. They help prevent carpal tunnel – a hazard of stone carving. I slip them on and cinch the Velcro straps. I am ready to work.

By now the sunlight has reached the stone. I set my goal for the day. I look for the next layer to remove in my search for Liber.

Pile 2

At the end of the day, I measure how much I accomplish by the size of the pile of stone on the ground .

I am finally on the stone path.

*         It was a volunteer fire department so there never was a pole.

Practicing Patience

 Since my last blog entry in June, I’ve been practicing patience.

The good news: the stone is on the truck. The bad news: the truck is still in Indiana. The good news: I have found a space in which to work. The bad news: it has no walls or heat. The good news: I have found an assistant. The bad news: our schedules may not mesh. I am sure, however, that all will be resolved by the next posting. For now, I am taking a slight detour.

Many of the Renaissance artists had patrons. The artist only had to worry about potential coup d’etats, losing favor in the court, imprisonment, even death if they did not complete their commissions in a timely manner. Payment was only received when the work was unveiled and accepted.

When I was in Italy learning to carve stone, I visited a small chamber where Michelangelo hid from his angry patrons. (He was notorious for taking on more work than he could possibly complete in a timely manner.) The walls were covered with “cartoons” – ideas for sculptures never realized.  He was too busy trying to balance his books – buy supplies, cover the rent and pay his creditors. Artists today live a similar existence. Patronage appears to be limited to public art commissions. Payment is only received when the work is installed. Still, supplies have to be purchased, the rent covered and the creditors paid.

Because I chose to pursue a path of creativity, I accept all attending consequences of that decision. Like most artists, I work a variety of jobs to keep the roof over my head and gas in the truck. Some of the work is creative; some more prosaic. One year, I held 16 different jobs including, but not limited to, the following: dog sitter, house cleaner, landscaper, kayak tour guide, upholsterer, furniture refinisher, faux finisher, project coordinator, caterer, teacher, trainer, writer, and clutter buster http://www.jotheclutterbuster.com.

Filmmaker

On the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death, I went to Peaks Island, Maine to sculpt a granite memorial. A chronicle of the process became a film: Chorus of Stones: In Four Parts. http://vimeo.com/29998120. After working on the island for 2 years, I am known as a sculptor and filmmaker and a highly responsible house and dog sitter.

The Umbrella Cover Museum is located on the same island. It occupies a very small space in the same building as the artist cooperative. (YES, I am talking about a museum of umbrella covers – the sleeve-like fabric that covers the umbrella when you buy it.) About 16 years ago, Nancy 3 Hoffman hung her first umbrella cover on the wall of her kitchen and tacked up a note documenting its provenance. The rest, as they say, is history.

In order to be considered for the Guinness World Records, there must be a category in which to compete. It took 5 years but in her indomitable way, Nancy 3 was able to convince the Guinness folks to create an Umbrella Cover Museum category. She then applied for an official count.

The requirements for a count are very specific. You need certified judges and also a judge to oversee those judges. You need to complete lots of forms and document the count from start to finish.

I was recruited to be the official videographer of the Peaks Island Umbrella Cover Museum Count on July 7, 2012. The count lasted 2.5 hours and included the singing of the museum theme song: “Let a Smile be Your Umbrella” accompanied by members of the Maine Squeeze accordion band. (Seriously.)

Nancy has submitted the footage of the counting of 730 umbrella covers with other proof of the event to the Guinness folks. I produced a short doc entitled: Celebration of the Mundane about the UCM, Nancy 3, and the commitment required to pursue a passion. www.umbrellacovermuseum.org/UCM.org/Press_%26_Video.html

Currently, Nancy is waiting for the official word.

She is also practicing patience.

Teacher

Several years ago, I established a Movie Maker Camp at the Friends School of Portland on Macworth Island in Maine. I taught video production and animation to young filmmakers who created Public Service Announcements during the week-long camp. After completing their PSAs, we take a field trip to the public access station  for interviews and a screening.

While the arrangements for the delivery of the limestone were being made, I taught at the camp. This year’s productions were entitled Stranger Danger and Scam Security. It is a sad commentary on our culture that fear pervades the lives of our children – both inside and outside their homes. Fortunately, children are able to set aside worry to be in the moment. So we waded in the ocean and looked for crabs at the water’s edge.

We all practiced patience.

 Upholsterer

The skeleton of my sofa has haunted me for years.

One day, I dismantled my living room sofa. (I can’t recall what inspired me to do it.)

It then took seven years to find just the right fabric. Now that I had selected the stone for Liber and made the shipping arrangements, it was time to re-upholster the sofa. You might be asking yourself: How does upholstering a sofa relate to sculpting?

Re-upholstering requires holding onto the image of the finished piece as you work section by section. You take raw materials and fashion them into a discernable whole. You work with your hands. You stand on your feet for long periods. You use specific tools for each step in the process.  You are always accompanied by the sound of a compressor and an air powered tool. Sometimes you need help lifting.

You look carefully. You do not cut until you are sure. You do not rush.

You practice patience.

The stone for Liber will probably be transported with stone intended for repairs of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  On September 29, 1907, the foundation stone was laid in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt and 83 years later the last finial was placed in the presence of President George H. W. Bush. The damage incurred as a result of the recent earthquake may take a decade to repair.

  • Making a film takes time.
  • Teaching children takes time.
  • Re-upholstering a sofa takes time. (Longer if you also do the chair.)
  • Building a cathedral takes time.

Creating a sculpture takes time. I can practice patience a little longer.

Beginnings: Broken Promises

My mom broke her hip. So my promise to post to this blog on a weekly basis was broken – like her hip – before my second entry. I am in Maine. And today the temperature is 0. You ask how cold is that? Well, when you try to breathe through your nose, your nostrils stick . So cold that you can’t take off your mittens to answer your cell phone. The 8 inches of snow we got crusted over  and shimmers in the morning light. I always tell folks in the DC area that Portland streets were cleared within 24 hours after the snowfall.  But due to budget issues, they are conserving sand and  salt so today the streets are one gigantic skating rink. I worry about falling for the first time in my life.  Hence YOGA.

(I promise if you read this entire blog, it WILL connect to creating a stone sculpture for the library.)

Caretakers know that you have to take care of yourself in order to be able to care for others. I decided that a good break from cooking, cajoling and caretaking would be a yoga class. Lila Yoga is located about 1/2 mile from mom’s. It is strange that the neighborhood known as The Hill – thought of as dangerous when I was growing  up (due less to danger and more to ethnicity and poverty) is now the most desired area of the city. In the past few years, there have been a spate of roof removals and glass wall installation so owners could see Casco Bay. There are several organic/local food restaurants and of course, a coffee shop that serves locally roasted coffee.  Although there is a hipper, younger crowd living here, my mom (up until now) has walked through the neighborhood to the local coffee shop daily for at least ten years since she gave up her car and they know her by name. Although most of the people I grew up with are gone, the Hill still looks out for its own.

There are many kinds of yoga practices (emphasis on practice) I am most  familiar with Iyengar….so entering an anyusara studio is a little  daunting especially when everyone seems to be below the age of 30 – including the instructors. More than 35 folks squeezed their mats into the studio space. Yes, we had to stagger  our “bums.”  The first two sessions were a lesson in humility. It has been 7 years since I was on the mat. And I have lost a great deal of flexibility and upper body strength – as well as a connection to the breath..and the ability to remain present.

Staying flexible and strong is critical to working in stone. Standing for hours at a time on a concrete floor  and striking repeatedly on a stone, creates tension and imbalance throughout the body and often carpal tunnel. Yoga helps to realign everything and to maintain focus.

There is one particular pose that I find most difficult (There are many others that I just find difficult.) It is vrksasana: the “Tree” pose. “Standing straight on the left leg, bend the right leg and place the right foot on the root of the left thigh. Stand thus like a tree on the ground.”

In an attempt to maintain my balance, I stare intently at  the wall in front of me. It is constructed of planks of chestnut …the width of which you no longer see. There is a sign on that wall signifying that it was once Longfellow’s home. For those of you who are not New Englanders, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow wrote a famous poem featuring a blacksmith standing under a chestnut tree.  A blight destroyed the American chestnut. But there are organizations attempting to reintroduce it: http://www.me-acf.org/Home.html.

The derivation of the word for LIBRARY is from the Latin word, Liber — with a long I — meaning, “to peel.” It refers to the inner bark of a tree. Early manuscripts were written on bark, and from this, we get the modern word “Library.”

And in that moment of trying to stand like a tree,  my brain made an unexpected connection. And this is how a sculpture starts to grow. And this is how a sculptor walks along the stone path.